| Home | Warning | Gear | Books | Photography | Hikes | Links | Flora & Fauna | Etiquette | About Me | What's New |



City Creek Loop - Tonto National Forest

Summary: A mostly loop, super aggressive day hike or more reasonable multi-day backpacking trip in a little visited area of the Mazatzal Wilderness. A bit of bush wacking and route finding is required.
Note: This hike was completed prior to the Willow fire which burned through the Mazatzal Wilderness in June and July of 2004. Actual trail conditions may differ from those described below.
Directions: From Phoenix, take the Bee Line Highway (Highway 87) north to Payson. Soon after entering the town, turn left at the lights onto Main Street.  There are a few jogs in the road, but stay on the main one.  After 2.5 miles, the pavement ends in a well graded dirt road and it  becomes Verde Valley Road (FS #406); continue ahead.  About 10 miles from Payson, the road drops down to the left, then switchbacks to the right and begins following City Creek.  A few hundred feet from the switchback, look for the signed City Creek Trailhead and parking area on the right hand side.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car
Navigation: Moderate to Difficult
Length: The semi-loop as described is 27.6 miles
With this write up you could also do a 20.2 mile hike to Fuller Seep and back or a 18 mile out and back hike to The Park
Date Hiked: April 1998 & February 2003
Weather Conditions: Nice
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking area, cross the road & pick up the trail which soon leads to a gate and sign for the Mazatzal Divide Trail, Red Hills Trail (0 miles, 3440 ft). The trail begins climbing moderately on the right side of the City Creek drainage (get used to the climb - you have several hours of it ahead of you). Vegetation in the area consists of juniper, yucca, prickly pear, grasses and scrub oak. After about 1/2 an hour, you will pass through a fence and the path bends right, then 10 minutes later you'll pass what's left of the Mazatzal Wilderness, Tonto NF boundary sign. The path continues its ascent and you'll begin to see more agave, manzanita and sugar sumac. Some more climbing up a few wide switchbacks and you'll have views to the north of the Mogollan Rim and above you to the prominent dome of North Peak. The upper sections of trail are a bit overgrown with scrub oak, though the path itself is easy to follow. When you round a corner which bends right and see a rock escarpment above, you'll know you're almost there. A short climb will bring you into a shady ponderosa pine forest and a few minutes later, a signed junction. The Divide Trail, which you have been following heads left, to the right is the Red Hills Trail, Brush Trail and Midnight Trail (5.5 miles, 6080 ft). Turn right and descend a short distance, then look for an abrupt turn to the left (look for cairns which mark the trail throughout). Follow the path as it winds its way down into a shallow ravine, through a pleasant pine forest, passing an old corral at one point. After crossing a wash (which had a few pockets of water when the author was here), the trail begins a gradual ascent next to another shallow drainage, then climbs more steeply, becoming more scrubby and sunny as it climbs to the head of the drainage. A short easy walk will bring you to the signed junction with the right branching Brush Springs Trail. Continue straight on the Red Hills Trail (8.3 miles, 6080 ft). The path winds its way across the plateau, then begins a steep descent along a sunny, rocky slope towards the valley below. Take care in this section since the many loose rocks make for poor footing. When you reach the valley floor, the trail becomes less steep and rocky as it winds its way down on the right side of the drainage. Soon you'll reach the creek and a sign for Fuller Seep which had many pools when I was here (note: I have read that water is available year round at Fuller Seep (10.1 miles, 5280 ft); I'm not sure I'd want to bet my life on it though, so I carried some extra water as a precaution). There are good camp sites at the seep and an old corral. The path then crosses the stream bed and follows a fence for a while as it continues west through the chaparral. After 1.5 miles, you'll reach a signed junction (though one of the signs was lying on the ground), the Midnight Trail and Deadman Trail 2.5 miles to the left, Dutchman Grave Trail 10 miles straight (11.6 miles, 5420 ft). Stay to the left and begin a steep and rocky descent back down to the drainage that Fuller Seep feeds. The path crosses the pink granite boulders of the drainage three times before climbing a low hill on the left and descending into the next drainage over, which is Wet Bottom Creek (13.1 miles, 4460 ft). There may be water a short distance up this creek. The path crosses the stream bed, heads up a side drainage, then begins following this drainage on the left hand side on a faint and heavily overgrown path. After crossing to the right, the brush fades a bit, then it's a somewhat steeper climb to the head of the drainage and signed (damaged & barely readable) junction (14.1 miles, 5300 ft) with the Willow Spring Trail #223. The Divide Trail is 5 miles to the left, Mountain Spring is 2 miles to the right. Head left on a faint path that travels along a shoulder through an area that is heavily overgrown and brushy. It's a struggle at times as you push your way through the scrub oak. Finally, the trail begins descending along a somewhat less brushy, but still indistinct path. Soon after passing through a nice stand of smooth bark cypress, the path crosses a sandy stream bed (look for cairns), then begins climbing a steep rocky slope. As you ascend, you'll have views to the right, across Maverick Basin, to some steep cliffs. After a long climb, you'll round a shoulder, then begin descending into a nice forested area of Ponderosa Pine and Alligator Juniper. Shortly after crossing a dry wash, you'll reach a signed junction in an area called The Park (19.1 miles, 5860 ft). The Divide Trail heads left and right at the junction; we'll stay left towards the Red Hills Trail which is 3 miles distant. A 15 minute walk through the woods will bring you to the right branching North Peak Trail #24, continue straight. The path climbs and descends a few moderate to steep hills, eventually breaking out onto a ridge composed of conglomerate rock and covered with shin daggers. A short walk down the ridge will bring you to the intersection with the Red Hills Trail you passed earlier (22.1 miles, 6080 ft). Stay right and begin the long decent back to the trailhead and your car (27.6 miles, 3440 ft).
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author completed this hike on two occasions. The first time, with an early start and fast pace, I completed it as a long day hike (not really recommended). Later, I returned with my wife and hiked it as a two day backpacking trip. Walk time on this second trip was 7 hours from the trailhead to where we camped at Wet Bottom Creek, then another 8 hours the next day to complete the hike. Between the two trips I saw one other person (a forest ranger).
Maps: Mazatzal Wilderness Tonto National Forest, USFS
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
The long climb from the trailhead. Typical view on the hike.
Pink granite on the way
up to The Park.
Conglomerate outcropping
& shindaggers.